Smartphone ringtones are not typically something you think about — until you hear yours and want to change it to something more enjoyable and original.
While the preset ringtones available on iPhones are functional, it’s easy to get bored with hearing the same ones over and over for years on your own phone and those of your friends and family. It’s good to know that there are more ringtone options than Apple’s diverse but limited selection. If you’re looking for a novel way to customize your iPhone, try creating your own original ringtones. There are no limits to the songs and sounds you can use to create an arresting ringtone.
Create a ringtone using Apple iTunes or Music
Step 1: Open and update Apple iTunes or Music
Start by launching iTunes (MacOS 14 High Sierra or older) or Music (MacOS 15 Catalina or newer) on your Mac or Windows desktop or laptop computer. Make sure that you’re using the latest version of iTunes or Apple Music. To check in MacOS High Sierra or earlier, click iTunes in the application toolbar and select Check for Updates from the resulting drop-down menu. If you’re using the latest version of Windows 10, click the Help option in the menu bar below the playback buttons, and select Check for Updates near the bottom of the resulting drop-down list.
If you are running MacOS Catalina or newer, launch the App Store app and choose Updates in the App Store toolbar. Use the Update button to download and install the newest version, if needed. Depending on how old your music is, you may have to deal with removing digital rights management (DRM) protection from your track first before using it as a ringtone. Also, make sure your chosen tune is downloaded to your Mac. A download icon next to your song means it resides in the cloud, so if it is, then click to download it to your hard drive.
Step 2: Choose a song
Here’s the fun part — pick the song that you’d like to use as your new iPhone ringtone. Keep in mind iPhone ringtones play continuously in 30-second (or less) loops, so don’t pick something dumb or embarrassing. Once you’ve chosen your song, take note of the start and stop times for the 30-second piece you want to use.
Step 3: Add the start and stop times
One of the lesser-known features of iTunes and Music is the ability to crop songs and videos, letting you choose specific start and end times. That is how to select a portion of a song to use as a ringtone. First, right-click or Ctrl-click the song you want and select Song Info (Get Info in MacOS Catalina or newer) from the resulting drop-down list.
Then click the Options tab at the top of the window. There should be fields for Start and Stop. Enter the times you want. Remember that ringtones max out at 30 seconds, so keep it at or below that length. Once done, click OK at the bottom.
The iTunes and Music interface differ slightly but the process on both is the same.
Step 4: Create an AAC version
Apple’s preferred audio format is AAC because it offers similar sound quality to an MP3, but takes up less storage space. Both iTunes and Music let you create an AAC version of any song you choose. Once you’ve set your start and stop times and have the song selected, go to File > Convert > Convert to AAC Version or in Music Create AAC Version.
Because the start and stop times for the song have been set, creating an AAC version will create a copy of that specific section of the song. The copy will then automatically appear in your iTunes library, directly beneath the original song, cropped to your chosen 30 seconds. Before doing anything else, go back into the original song’s Info page and revert the start and stop times to their original settings.
Step 5: Copy the file and delete the old one
Once created, click the AAC version of your song and drag it to the desktop or your desired save location. This will copy the file to that location.
You probably don’t need the shortened song in iTunes anymore, so feel free to delete the file. Right-click or Ctrl-click the AAC file in iTunes, and select Delete from Library from the resulting drop-down menu. Then, click the Delete File button in MacOS High Sierra or earlier or choose Keep File or Move to Trash in MacOS Catalina.
Step 6: Change the extension
AAC files typically use the file extension .m4a, which you might notice when you click on your AAC file. For ringtones, however, iTunes uses the .m4r extension, which is essentially the same as .m4a with a different name. This means you’ll need to change the extension from .m4a to .m4r in order to use the clip as a ringtone. Navigate to the desktop — or wherever you saved the file — click the file’s name, and change the extension from .m4a to .m4r. Click the Use .m4r or Yes button in the resulting alert window to confirm the changes.
If you’re using Windows you might find that you’re unable to change the file extension, at least by default. This is probably because your system is set to hide file extensions. To change this, open the Control Panel from the Start menu — you can also search for the Control Panel app in Windows 10 — and select Appearance and Personalization. Next, click File Explorer Options. Now, click the View tab, uncheck the box beside Hide extensions for known file types, and click the Apply button at the bottom of the window. Now you should be able to see and edit the file extension.
Step 7: Add file to your iPhone
To add the .m4r ringtone file to your iPhone, connect your device to your computer using a lightning-to-USB cable. Then, select the iPhone icon in the upper-left corner. Go to the Summary section and scroll down to Options. Check the box beside Manually manage music and videos and click Apply. Now, drag the .m4r file into the Tones tab located under On My Device, which will automatically sync the ringtone with your iPhone.
If you’re having issues dragging the .m4r file to the Tones tab after you apply the changes, disconnect your iPhone and restart iTunes. Then, connect your iPhone and try dragging the file into the window again.
If you’re using MacOS Catalina (or newer) and don’t have iTunes, then open the Finder, and click your iPhone in the sidebar. If it’s the first time you’ve done this since updating, you may need to click the Trust button and go through the process to open your iPhone to your Mac. From there, the steps are similar. Select the General tab, check the box beside Manually manage music and videos, and click Apply. There’s no Tones tab, so just drag your ringtone file to the name of your iPhone above the General tab. That will sync your new ringtone to your phone.
Step 8: Set your ringtone
For iOS 13, go to Settings > Sounds & Haptics > Ringtone and select your ringtone from the top of the resulting list. For iOS 14, go to Settings > Sounds > Ringtone. Keep in mind you can always set the new ringtone as your text, voicemail, or email tone in addition to your notification sound for Facebook posts and tweets. A tone is a tone as far as Apple is concerned, so you can use it as the default sound for any notification or alert.
You may prefer to make your ringtone in Apple’s GarageBand app by either snipping a portion of a song you like or by creating your own. You can create a ringtone on your Mac using GarageBand and share it to your iCloud Drive so you can open it in GarageBand on your iPhone. To share songs from your Mac to GarageBand for iOS, you need to enable iCloud Drive, so begin by setting up iCloud Drive on your Mac and your iPhone. Once it’s on your iPhone, export the song as a ringtone from GarageBand, or just create the ringtone directly on your iPhone.
Use GarageBand for iOS
This is easiest if you have the GarageBand iOS app and the music track you want to use on your iPhone already.
- Launch the GarageBand app and find the song you want to use. Note that if you haven’t shortened it to 30 seconds already, GarageBand can do that automatically, though it may not be the 30 seconds you intend.
- Touch and hold the song, then choose Share > Ringtone.
- Name the ringtone and tap Export.
- Tap Use sound as and pick Standard Ringtone, Standard Text Tone, or Assign to Contact.
From a track on your Mac
Here is one method you can use with an existing tune running MacOS Big Sur and GarageBand 10.3.5 — both the newest versions available.
- Open GarageBand on your Mac, click Empty Project, and then click Choose.
- Select the Audio microphone icon and click Create.
- Click View > Show Media Browser to reveal your resident tunes.
- Choose a tune you want and drag your selection from the media browser into the workspace.
- Move your cursor to the bottom left or right corner of the track, and you will see an icon you can use to click and drag to shorten or lengthen the track to the specific portion you want to use for your ringtone.
- After you’ve selected a 30-second audio clip, right-click and find the Split at Playhead option. Right-click again and choose Delete to remove the remainder of the tune so that only the 30-second interval remains.
- Click Share. You can either export the song to iTunes or Music on the desktop or as a GarageBand for iOS file from the Share menu.
- If you choose the former, follow Step 7 from the computer section above. If your iPhone has the GarageBand app downloaded, you can keep the file as a GarageBand file and import it to your phone. From there, you can follow the instructions above to set it as a ringtone.
Create a track using GarageBand loops
You could also construct a custom song out of the loops available in GarageBand. Here’s how.
- Create an Empty Project, then click Choose, click the microphone button, and click Create.
- In the upper-right corner, click the Loop icon in the middle (it looks like a loop).
- You’ll be able to search a loop library. To listen to them, pull them to the track field. Arrange them however you like, keeping the same loop playing over and over or adding in other loops on separate tracks to create more layered songs.
- Once you’ve finished, click Share, then Song to Music. You can choose the m4a file type for exporting, then change the extension to m4r so you can copy it to your phone. Or Share Project to GarageBand for iOS and add it as a ringtone from iCloud.
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